Category Archives: Community Health

Dec 31 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 31

Help for Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions from the Federal Government
Losing weight
, helping others and quitting smoking are among the top New Year’s resolutions of the American people, according to the General Services Administration (GSA), the agency that oversees the business of the federal government. Links on the GSA site offer strategies, websites and help lines for 2014 resolutions. Click on the quit smoking link on the GSA resolution list for example, and you’ll find yourself at smokefree.gov, which offers tools you can access immediately, even before 2014 begins. Read more on community health.

NIH to Fund Research on Workforce Diversity Programs
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will establish a national consortium to develop, implement and evaluate approaches to encourage individuals of all backgrounds to start and stay in biomedical research careers. “There is a compelling need to promote diversity in the biomedical research workforce,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins MD, PhD. “A lack of diversity jeopardizes our ability to carry out the NIH mission because innovation and problem solving require diverse perspectives. The future of biomedical research rests on engaging highly talented researchers from all groups and preparing them to be successful in the NIH-funded workforce.” Read a new JAMA study that finds that minority physicians care for the majority of underserved patients in the United States. Read more on health disparities.

Twenty Percent of Drivers Admit They Often Drive Too Fast
A recent survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finds that twenty percent of drivers say they “try to get where I am going as fast as I can." According to NHTSA, speeding-related deaths nationwide account for nearly a third of all traffic fatalities each year, taking close to 10,000 lives. And despite acknowledging the safety benefits of speed limits and reasons drivers should follow them, more than a quarter of those surveyed admitted "speeding is something I do without thinking" and "I enjoy the feeling of driving fast." And sixteen percent felt that "driving over the speed limit is not dangerous for skilled drivers." Most alarming, drivers with the least experience behind the wheel—those 16-20 years old—admitted to speeding more frequently than any other age group. And more than one in ten drivers ages 16-20 reported at least one speeding-related crash in the past five years, compared to 4 percent for the population as a whole. Read more on injury prevention.

Dec 11 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 11

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2013 America’s Health Rankings Finds Significant Progress in National Health
The new 2013 America’s Health Rankings from the United Health Foundation finds that while there is still much progress to be made, over the past year Americans improved in the majority of the measures that the Rankings use to rate public health. The improved areas include smoking rates, which fell to 19.6 percent of the adult population, from 21.2 percent the previous year, as well as physical inactivity, which fell to 22.9 percent from 26.2 percent. Also, for the first time since 1998 the obesity rate did not rise. With low rates of uninsured people, high rates of childhood immunization and low rates of health issues such as obesity and smoking, Hawaii ranked as the healthiest state in the country. Read more on community health.

FDA to Phase Out Use of Certain Antimicrobials in Food Animals
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving forward with a plan to combat the spread of antibacterial resistance by prohibiting the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for food production purposes, while also adding veterinary oversight to therapeutic use of the drugs in animals. Antimicrobials can be used in the food and drinking water of cattle, poultry and other food animals to encourage weight gain. However, these same antimicrobials are used to treat infections in humans, and their availability in the food supply increases the possibility of the development of antimicrobial resistance. The FDA is giving companies three months to sign on to the strategy, then three years to transition. “This action promotes the judicious use of important antimicrobials to protect public health while ensuring that sick and at-risk animals receive the therapy they need,” said Bernadette Dunham, DVM, PhD, director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine. “We realize that these steps represent changes for veterinarians and animal producers, and we have been working—and will continue to work—to make this transition as seamless as possible.” Read more on food safety.

HHS: 365,000 Enrolled Under Affordable Care Act in October, November
The official numbers are in, with almost 365,000 people selecting plans in the Health Insurance Marketplace in October and November, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. About 1.9 million people have gone through the online process, but have just not yet selected a plan, while more than 800,000 were determined eligible for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The site went live at the beginning of October, but extensive bugs and glitches meant only about 27,000 people were able to sign up in that first month. Last week a reconfigured HealthCare.gov was launched after about five weeks of work spent addressing the problems, and 29,000 people were able to sign up during the first two days alone. Thirty-six states use HealthCare.gov, with fourteen states and Washington, D.C. maintaining their own sites. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Dec 9 2013
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NewPublicHealth Q&A: John Auerbach and Cheryl Bartlett on the Massachusetts Prevention and Wellness Trust

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The Massachusetts Prevention and Wellness Trust is a four-year, $60 million project designed to support prevention and health-promotion activities in the state. The first project of its kind in the United States will fund six to 12 collaborative initiatives, and partners on the initiative will include municipalities, community-based organizations, health care providers, regional agencies and health plans. Information on the Trust is detailed in a new report prepared by the Institute on Urban Health Research and Practice at Northeastern University and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The vision behind the creation of the project is to give all Massachusetts residents the opportunity to live in communities that promote health, as well as seamless access to all community and clinical services needed to prevent and control chronic diseases. It was created because while there is access to health insurance and health care in Massachusetts, health costs continue to rise. The goals of the project include:

  • Reducing the rate of the state’s most costly preventable health conditions
  • Reducing health disparities
  • Increasing healthy behaviors
  • Increasing the adoption of workplace wellness programs
  • Developing a strong evidence base of effective prevention programs

In order to implement these goals, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health identified four priority areas: tobacco use, childhood asthma, hypertension and elder falls prevention—all of which should be considered closely when working to reduce health disparities and co-occurring mental health conditions in these areas.

Massmodel Detailed look at a section of the new infographic

A new infographic created for the Prevention and Wellness Trust’s inauguration perfectly illustrates how community links work together to improve health under the principles of the Trust. For example, a diagnosis of hypertension would need a provider to prescribe medications, but the obesity and exercise needs that would also improve the condition for many patients requires input from other community entities, including:

  • Classes in exercise, medication and stress reduction by community agencies
  • Chronic disease self management classes and home visits for medication use instruction by a community agency
  • A neighborhood policy that provides support for transportation changes to encourage walking or biking and zoning for healthy food stores
  • A neighborhood policy that provides support for more accessible recreation options in parks and city centers for increased stress reduction
  • Workplace policies that provide support for workplace wellness programs that help provide and encourage exercise, healthy foods and stress reduction

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with John Auerbach, a Professor at Northeastern University and the primary author of a report on the Trust, and Cheryl Bartlett, public health commissioner of Massachusetts and the lead person charged with its implementation.

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Nov 21 2013
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Minnesota’s Healthy Communities Conference 2013: Q&A with Paul Mattessich and Ela Rausch

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A conference in St. Paul, Minn., earlier this month examined ideas and emerging examples for building a healthier Minnesota by promoting the integration of health-related programs and community development to address health where we live, learn, work and play. The conference was convened by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minnesota and Wilder Research, the research arm of the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation. The gathering, which was a follow-up to an initial conference on the intersection of health and community development held in Minnesota a year ago, highlighted current successful cross-sector efforts throughout the state.

Elaine Arkin, manager of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America, was a keynote speaker at the conference. Her remarks included the announcement that the Commission’s recommendations on early childhood and supporting healthy communities will be released in early 2013.

The highlighted projects included a task force on increasing access to healthier foods, often an obstacle in poorer communities; locating needed services alongside senior housing; a stable housing concept for people at risk of homelessness following a hospital stay; and a project underway to give kids living in trailer parks a safe place to play.

“The strategy that we used this year in engaging people with actual examples...was very effective in really acknowledging that this work is messy, that it does take time and that in order to keep people enthusiastic about it sometimes it does require giving people a pat on the back even just for the small progress that they’ve made,” said Ela Rausch, community development project manager of the Federal Reserve of Minnesota.

Following the conference, NewPublicHealth spoke with Ela Rausch and Paul Mattessich, PhD, Executive Director of Wilder Research.

NewPublicHealth: What were the key goals of this year’s meeting?

Paul Mattessich: The overarching goal is at the national level to bring together public health with community development finance in order to better address health issues, social determinants of health and improved community health. But what we did the first time a year ago was to try to get the two sectors to understand what each other does, what their vocabulary was, how best to work together and to start some networking.

This year the goal was to take the next step and highlight some examples where this cross-sector collaboration occurred, and to use that to try to further that even more and to underscore the fact that the two sectors really do address the same end goal, even though they do it in different ways. And if they team up they can do it more effectively.

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Nov 15 2013
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‘Culture of Health Hangout’: The Continuing Evolution of Public Health Departments

Earlier this week, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation held its first ever “Culture of Health Hangout,” a new series meant to explore what communities across the country are doing to advance and transform public health. This first foray looked at how public health departments have evolved in recent years, and are continuing to evolve to meet the changing needs of the communities they serve. The panel was moderated by Paul Kuehnert, RWJF senior program officer and Public Health team director.

file Muntu Davis, Alameda County

According to Muntu Davis, Public Health Director and County Health Officer of Alameda County, the core role of public health hasn’t really changed—public health departments and officials continue to gather and analyze data to explain what’s happening to the health of a community. However, what has changed is where they put their focus. Now, in health departments across the country, the focus is not simply on individual decisions, but on social and economic factors that dictate which options are truly available.

“Although it does boil down to an individual choice, if there’s no opportunity there for communities, then ‘health’ is definitely not an easy choice to make,” said Davis.

One of the more innovative approaches his health department has undertaken is utilizing maternal and child health workers to provide, in addition to their traditional work, financial coaching to people who may be of lower incomes. “Studies have shown link between income, wealth and life expectancy,” said Davis, and that’s what makes it important for public health to help support not just the immediate health need but also “the full picture of what might be shaping their health.” These workers are able to provide education and assistance, while also linking them to financial coaching and tools that can help them manage the money they have.

file Karen DeSalvo, New Orleans

Karen DeSalvo, City of New Orleans Health Commissioner, spoke extensively on the importance of community partnerships when it comes to advancing community health. She said Hurricane Katrina was, in a way, a “catalyst for change” that enabled the entire community to hit the reset button, assess where they were and determine how best to move forward together. One of the first realizations was that the city simply did not have a strong enough local health department.

“It allowed us to begin planning, and to decide to move away from an expensive, hospital-based system to one that was more about prevention and primary care,” she said. “And over the course of years, once we stabilized that infrastructure at the frontline of primary care and moved more toward prevention, the glaring need to have a strong public health department became obvious.”

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Nov 14 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 14

DOT and HUD Release Neighborhood Affordability Tool
The U.S. Departments of Housing and Transportation (HUD and DOT, respectively) have released a Location Affordability Portal, a new tool that lets users estimate housing and transportation costs for neighborhoods across the country.

“Many consumers make the mistake of thinking they can afford to live in a certain neighborhood or region just because they can afford the rent or mortgage payment. Housing affordability encompasses much more than that,” said HUD Secretary Donovan. “The combined cost of housing and transportation consumes close to half of a working family’s monthly budget, and the [Portal] will help to better inform consumers, help them save money, and provide them with a broader perspective of their housing and transportation options.”

The new tool was developed with the input of real-estate industry professionals, academics, and staff from HUD and DOT, and uses statistical models that were developed from various sources that capture key neighborhood characteristics including population density, transit and job access, average number of commuters and distance of commutes, average household income and size, median selected monthly owner costs. and median gross rent. Read more on housing and transportation.

Health Index May Reduce Hospital Readmissions
A health risk score used during hospital stays using routine data from hospital electronic medical records may be able to identify patients at high risk of unplanned hospital readmission, according to a study published in Medical Care.

The score is calculated automatically using patient data such as vital signs, nursing assessments, skin condition, heart rhythms and laboratory tests. Lower Rothman Index scores (from a maximum of 100) indicate a higher risk of readmission. The study evaluated the ability of the Rothman Index to predict hospital readmission, based on data from more than 2,700 patients hospitalized during 2011. The researchers found that patients whom the Index calculated as being high risk for readmission were 2.5 times as likely to be readmitted within 30 days of discharge as patients calculated by the Index to be low risk.

About 20 percent of Medicare patients are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, at an estimated cost of $17 billion per year, according to the study authors. Medicare has begun reducing payments by up to 2 percent for hospitals with high readmission rates. Read more on community health.

Rapid Flu Testing in the ER Leads to More Effective Treatment
Using rapid influenza tests to diagnose flu in patients who come to the emergency room results in fewer unnecessary antibiotics, increased prescriptions for antiviral medicines, and fewer additional lab tests compared to patients diagnosed with influenza without testing, according to a new study the Journal of the Pediatrics Infectious Diseases Society.

Among patients diagnosed with influenza without rapid testing, 23 percent of the emergency department visits included a prescription for antibiotics, which are not effective in to treat influenza because it is a viral infection. However, for patients who were diagnosed by rapid testing, only 11 percent of visits resulted in the patient getting antibiotics. Additional laboratory tests, including chest X-rays, blood tests, and urinalysis, were also ordered less frequently for patients whose influenza illness was diagnosed with a rapid test.

"While other studies have shown that physicians can accurately diagnose influenza without testing, our results suggest that using an influenza test increases diagnostic certainty and leads to the physician providing more specific and appropriate care,” says Anne J. Blaschke, MD, PhD, of the University of Utah School of Medicine, the study’s lead author. Read more on infectious disease.

Nov 5 2013
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APHA 2013: Public Health System Transformation Under the Affordable Care Act

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The changing environment for health departments under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was the focus of a very well attended early morning session at the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting in Boston today, moderated by APHA public health policy analyst Vanessa Forsberg, MPP.

Hospitals and private health care providers will soon be competing with health departments for clinical services such as immunizations for a newly insured population, according to Forsberg. However collaboration may help departments keep and grow clinical services, as well as collaborate with new partners under other new ACA rules, such as community benefit requirements for hospitals to improve population and individual health.

“There’s a lot of innovation, a lot of people moving into that space and this is a clarion call to say public health had a head start and don’t let the space be taken from you, learn the finance side,” said James Corbett, M.Div, JD, an ethics fellow at the Harvard Medical School and vice president of charity care and ethics at the Steward Health Care System in Boston.

Opportunities for health departments, says Corbett, include focusing on addressing disparities, preventive health, innovative programs and partnerships that improve care and reduce costs.

A key example Corbett shared was a decision by Steward to hire community health workers whose services can be billed for under the ACA beginning January 1. Corbett says he looked at the hospital’s bad debt documentation by language and found trends, then convinced the hospital’s CEO to allow him to hire community workers who got iPads and then went out into the community to visit patients who hadn’t paid bills. They were able to use the devices to record identification and other information, then help the patients sign up for Medicaid and other assistance that allowed them to be covered and the health system to be paid.

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Nov 5 2013
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Investing in Public Health: Q&A with Glen Mays

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New research presented at the American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting in Boston today finds that when public health funding increases in a community, its rates of infant mortality and deaths due to preventable diseases decrease over time, with low-income communities experiencing the largest health and economic gains.

According to the research, conducted by Glen Mays, PhD, MPH, director of the University of Kentucky’s National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research, each ten percent increase in public health spending over 17 years led to a 4.3 percent reduction in infant mortality, as well as reductions of 0.5 to 3.9 percent in non-infant deaths from cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and influenza.

However, these health gains were 20-44 percent larger when funding was targeted to lower-income communities. Increases in public health spending also correlated with lower medical care costs per person, especially in low-income areas. The study, which analyzed data compiled by the National Association of County and City Health Officials from 3,000 local public health agencies over a 17-year period, also found that lower death rates and health care costs were seen especially in communities that allocated their public health funding across a broader mix of preventive services.

“The results clearly show that better health and lower health care costs are possible if we simply change how and where we allocate public health funding, even if new money isn’t available, said Mays. “And it also shows that new resources, such as funding from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention Fund, can have a larger impact if targeted to lower-resource, higher-need communities and if spread across a range of prevention strategies.”

>>NewPublicHealth will be on the ground throughout the APHA conference speaking to public health leaders and presenters, hearing from attendees on the ground and providing updates from sessions, with a focus on how we can build a culture of health. Follow the coverage here.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Mays about the new study just before the APHA annual meeting began.

Glen Mays, PhD, MPH, Director of the University of Kentucky’s National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research Glen Mays, PhD, MPH, Director of the University of Kentucky’s National Coordinating Center for Public Health Services and Systems Research

NewPublicHealth: What are the key findings of the study?

Glen Mays: We’ve done prior studies that show communities that invest more on public health realize gains in health status and, over time, those communities see slower growth in medical care costs. So the goal of the study is to look at who benefits most from investments in public health.

What we found was that, not all that surprisingly, communities that are more economically constrained, that have lower income communities with higher poverty rates and lower socioeconomic status, tend to benefit the most from investments in public health activities over time. These low-resource communities see larger reductions in their preventable mortality, and they also see larger reductions in their medical care costs over time from investments in public health spending compared to more affluent communities. We expected to find that, but this is the first time we’ve been able to document the size of that effect. Those communities see about twenty percent higher rates of health and economic gain from their spending compared to more affluent communities.

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Oct 15 2013
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Place Matters: Bringing Community Development and Health Leaders Together

file David Williams, Harvard School of Public Health and RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America (photo credit: Alliance for Health Reform)

At the recent Place Matters conference in Washington, D.C., David Williams, PhD, the Norman Professor of Public Health at the Harvard School of Public Health and staff director of the reconvened Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America, talked about the need for cooperation between the community development industry and health leaders.

“Community development and health are working side by side in the same neighborhoods and often with the same residents but often don’t know each other or coordinate efforts.”

NewPublicHealth recently asked Dr. Williams about how synergies between the two fields can help improve population health.

>>View David Williams' PowerPoint presentation from the conference:

NewPublicHealth: Is there progress on the community development and health fields working together to help improve the health of communities?

David Williams: I would say there is increasing recognition by individuals both in health and in community development that they are two groups working in many ways on the same challenges and often in the same communities and in many ways there can be there could be synergy from working together. But I would also say that this is all so new, and I don’t think the field has matured in terms of our full understanding of where the potential is. To me, one of the greatest hungers out there is for people to see examples of success and progress and initiatives that in fact have worked well together, and we’re still in the beginnings of seeing that—such as the Federal Reserve healthy communities conferences, which have raised awareness levels and have begun to help similar initiatives. But we’re still in the infancy of really capitalizing on the potential.

One of the key challenges is that this area of healthy communities is a broader issue. And that includes the need to recognize the importance of a health in all policies approach—that policies in many sectors far removed from health have health consequences. A good example is the education sector—and having teachers recognize that they are themselves are health workers in a certain sense because the work they do can have such an important impact on health.

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Oct 2 2013
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Exploring the Intersection of Health, Place and Economic Justice

file Brian Smedley, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

On Wednesday October 2nd, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies held its third annual National Health Equity Conference, PLACE MATTERS: Exploring the Intersections of Health and Economic Justice. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies was founded in 1970 and is the only research and public policy institute that focuses exclusively on social justice issues of particular concern to African Americans and other communities of color.

The conference focused on the relationship between community development and the creation of healthy spaces and places, and convened key stakeholders, including grassroots leaders, elected officials, researchers, public health practitioners, policymakers, community development practitioners, and community organizers. The conference had several goals, including to:  

  • Illuminate the mechanisms through which neighborhood conditions directly and indirectly shape the health of children, youth, and families, and document differences in neighborhood conditions resulting from residential segregation;
  • Identify common goals and strategies of individuals and organizations working in the community development sector and the health equity sector;
  • Elevate promising strategies to improve and sustain neighborhood conditions for health that draw upon effective approaches employed in the community development and health equity sectors; and
  • Explore means to better communicate these strategies to key audiences, such as community-based development and health equity organizations, public health practitioners, planners, and elected officials.

Leaders at the Joint Center say that by convening national and local leaders, including individuals at the forefront of community development and health equity movements, they hoped to raise awareness regarding community conditions that shape health and develop policy solutions at the intersection of place and health, particularly as it pertains to people of color and health equity.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Brian Smedley, PhD, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center’s Health Policy Institute about the critical issues of community health and its relationship to health equity.

NewPublicHealth: What do we know so far about the impact of place on health, and what do we still need to learn?

Brian Smedley: There’s a large and growing body of research that demonstrates the relationship between the places and spaces where people live, work, study, and play and their health status, and what we’ve been able to determine is that there are many characteristics of neighborhoods, schools and work places that powerfully shape health.  Just as an example, more and more people are paying attention to this concept of food deserts — many communities in the United States that don’t have geographic access to healthy foods.  And not only do people have to travel a long distance to access these foods, but they’re often financially out of reach as well.

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